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In June this year Yahoo confirmed that it would take steps to recycle old email addresses no longer in use. This process is now underway.

It turns out that Microsoft have also been doing it, silently, for some time.

The concept is controversial, and potentially dangerous. Over the years we have all signed up for free web based email services.... yahoo.com, hotmail.com, live.., outlook... etc.

There is also every possibility we don't use several of these as we have moved onto other services. I for one used to have a yahoo.co.uk address but eventually moved on to gmail some years ago.

The Terms and Conditions of free email services generally require you to login periodically otherwise it is assumed the account is no longer in use. The account could be terminated, but now it appears some email providers are taking back the email address and making it available for re-use.

Yahoo have taken quite a bit of criticism for this new recycling policy; after 12 months without a login your account may be deleted and the username made available again after a period of time. Their actual T&Cs are horrendously lengthy and far too complicated for the average user.

Microsoft have now admitted to this practice too. After a period of 270 days inactivity the account is suspended; one year later the account name (email address) is deleted and becomes available to anyone.

There's no easy answer here. Over the years all the simple email addresses have been taken and may well be redundant. New users are having to accept more obscure email addresses. This process will free up some good addresses however there is a huge privacy concern.

Let's say you signed up for a web service using your email address. You then stop using the service and forget all about it. Some time later you change your email provider and eventually the old email address is deactivated then handed on to someone else. There is the potential that the new user could receive an email from the web service, reset the password, and login as you.

Google have confirmed that when accounts are deleted the email address is never reused.

The key points here are:

  • You need to take more care of your own privacy. If you do change email address take care to update everyone.
  • web services need to pay more attention to non-delivery reports. If Yahoo have suspended an account it will generate an error back to the web service. They need to handle these and consider suspending your account
  • Microsoft of course need to be more open and let us know they are reusing old addresses.
  • consider buying your own domain name and therefore owning your email address. It's easy to move around if you change providers (sometimes there will be a small fee, but it could be worth it). I've had my own domain & email address for years, hosted by GMail.

What are your thoughts on this hot topic?

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